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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's Your Shmackage?

Most readers will know this already, but for those who don't, here's a little inside information about the terminology we law prawfessors use in our day to day lives: we use the word "package" to refer to the set of classes that we are teaching or will teach in any given year.  So, for example, the associate dean might say to a professor: "What package are you looking for next year?"  Or during an interview, the appointments chair might ask a candidate: "What's your ideal package?"  Or a disaffected faculty member might complain over drinks with a colleague: "God, I hate this place.  I have such a crappy package!"

I have a couple of questions about this "package" thing.  First, can't we come up with some other word for it?  I don't know, maybe I'm just too sensitive about irritating-sounding words.  For example, in the book I just finished writing, I tried to replace the word "scrutiny," which I hate, with the word "fluffernutter," which is fun, everytime I had to talk about free exercise doctrine.  My editor, however, got a massive migraine reading the thing and made me change it back.  (oops: pointless and gratuitous link to my blog about my book).  I hate using the word "package" to refer to my courses.  Does anyone have a better word?  I don't, really, but for better or worse, I'll just use the word "shmackage," as in package-shmackage, for the rest of this post.

My other, slightly more serious, question is: Does anyone have a particularly interesting shmackage that they'd like to share?  Like, one that is completely different from the shmackage that you had or thought you were going to have when you started teaching?  Or one that appears to be completely incoherent but really isn't?  My shmackage this year is environmental law, intro to US law for LLMs, and the first amendment.  Though my shmackage differs from year to year, it usually has some combination of environmental law and first amendment/church-state law.  These areas of law intersect a little here and there, but basically they are completely separate and entirely different.  I love teaching both of them, though, and I'm glad they're both part of my shmackage.  One thing I like about the shamckage is that with first amendment law I get to talk about abstract principles and the framers and ultimate reality, etc. etc., and with environmental law I get to indulge the lawyer geek in me and talk about section 9479-B-3-little c-romanette iii, and fun stuff like that. 

Lastly, does the fact that many prawfs might end up with either unexpected or incoherent shmackages shed any light on whether we should be making such a big deal during the appointments process for entry-levels on what their ideal shmackages are?  When I was on the market and someone asked me about my ideal shmackage, I always felt like saying that my ideal shmackage was whatever shmackage would be most likely to get me the job.

Posted by Jay Wexler on December 17, 2008 at 08:25 AM | Permalink


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Any thoughts by prawfs about the idea of "coherence" in the schmackage a candidate describes as ideal, and how that relates to the evaluation of the candidate? I'm someone who has come close more than once, but never been offered a job. On more than one occasion, I noted some surprise or skepticism about my ideal line-up. *I* think it makes sense, of course, and can articulate the reasoning behind how all the courses fit together, but sometimes I just got a raised eyebrow and (perhaps foolishly) didn't make a point to follow-up myself. I've wondered how much my ideal schmackage just seemed too weird or incoherent to people. I did notice that there are some strong presumptions about what goes together (i.e, if you say Civ. Pro., then you'll also say evidence, or Fed. Courts., but not Jurisprudence, say, or Corporations goes with Securities Reg, but not Immigration) -- as a candidate, do you deviate from these "natural" pairings at your peril?

Posted by: Anon non-prof | Dec 19, 2008 1:26:13 PM

Instead of shmackage, why not Farrago (mixed fodder for cattle, hence, a confused mixture or hotchpotch of things or persons)?

Posted by: Edward Still | Dec 17, 2008 10:48:27 PM

hilarious. i hope you join this blog as a regular.

Posted by: Andy | Dec 17, 2008 6:29:54 PM

I think a teaching "package" is also sometimes described using the equally unpleasant term "load." As in, "Next year I've got a 10-credit load," or "What kind of load do you give incoming teachers?" Perhaps interestingly, the two terms are rough synonyms outside this context as well, referring to something one carries (and is burdened by). Perhaps there's a similar term that doesn't sound as bad? I'd nominate "bundle." (Or perhaps "parcel," but bundle seems to capture the idea much better.)

I have a somewhat unorthodox teaching bundle myself: criminal law, health law, and property. It's pretty much exactly what I wanted when I started, and I still enjoy each of the courses (as well as the differences among them), though my research has concentrated almost entirely on criminal law. I think if you replaced property with torts in that group, the combination would suddenly look less odd, though it wouldn't be any closer to reflecting my research areas.

Posted by: Michael Cahill | Dec 17, 2008 2:57:16 PM

I don't think I've heard "package" used without the modifier "teaching." So you'll hear references to "teaching packages," but I don't think I would know what it meant if a lawprof was complaining about their packages. I would probably think they were complaining about boxes of reprints.

As for asking questions in interviews, the real question should be asked only after forcing candidates to take a truth serum. The question should be this: "If we give you an offer, are you going to turn into a prima donna and insist on any particular courses-- and if so, what are they?"

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 17, 2008 11:45:02 AM

Ha. I also loathe this question, both for its vaguely lewd overtones and because it's the kind of thing that should be easily answered from a resume or the FAR form (though the latter isn't well constructed to give this information). Almost all candidates have fairly clearly expressed on their forms "I'd love to teach A, B, and C; would be willing to teach D, E, and F; and would put up with teaching G and H." Why we feel compelled to make them reiterate this info puzzles me. Except: what committees often want to know is something like "You've listed contracts seventh on your list of preferred courses. How would you feel about teaching it twice a year for the rest of your life?" But as usual, the interview process dances around this issue rather than dealing with it head-on.

Posted by: Dave | Dec 17, 2008 11:25:29 AM

So is it inappropriate to say to a colleague "Wow, you've got a great package?"

Posted by: wexmaster fan | Dec 17, 2008 9:38:35 AM

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